Three years ago, Adam Eldridge started Stanridge Bicycles out of his basement. In March, the custom bicycle manufacturing company became his sole source of income and he now works out of a warehouse on the Whittier Peninsula near Columbus’s Brewery District. Plus, he’s added two partners, six part-time employees, and a handful of volunteers.
Despite Stanridge’s growth, Eldridge still brazes the bicycles himself from start to finish. The company has no machinery at the moment, but several machines are en route and the Stanridge team is eagerly anticipating their arrival.
“We’re excited for this,” Eldrige says. “All of the bicycles are made by hand. The process involves −at the moment− various files, hand tools, a belt sander and bench grinder. Visitors to my shop are always very surprised by the lack of tooling when entering the workspace. Soon we will utilize very specialized jigs, vertical mills, and an industrial-sized paint booth.”
The majority of Stanridge’s bicycles are sold via the Internet, though the company has working relationships with several local bicycle shops. It also has dealers in Indonesia, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Vancouver.
“We’re networking and forming partnerships to distribute Stanridge in the UK through a London shop and to the rest of Europe through a German shop,” Eldridge says.
To learn who he turns to for design and business advice, what’s been the biggest challenge he’s faced since launching Stanridge, and why he’s not focused on competing with domestic manufacturers, keep reading.
The Metropreneur: What inspired you to build bicycles for a living?
Adam Eldridge: I feel like we all have bicycles as children. We get busy, involved with life, and lose interest in cycling probably because at 16 a car becomes cool and a bicycle uncool. When we decide to slow down and enjoy life as adults, we’re all drawn back to bicycles.
I had accumulated way too much stuff. Pairing down to the basics was number one on my to-do list. I needed to simplify my life so, for some odd reason, I decided to start a company. When I think about the basics −I’ve had to because I have no creditors− I’ve bootstrapped the entire operation.
[M]: What were some of the first steps you took when launching the business?
AE: I focused primarily on the product in the beginning. I knew photos of the bicycles would be traded online, so nailing the builds and color palettes were paramount. I sent emails and photos on a weekly basis to the bloggers who are held in high regard in our corner of the world. I sent a bicycle on a tour of the U.S. I gave five highly regarded bloggers the chance to ride and photograph the bicycle currently in the window at Paradise Garage. The bloggers continue to help me pull the bicycles through the channels I’ve chosen to focus on.
I focused on building the brand internationally in the beginning. The U.S. is saturated with custom builders. Oddly, there are only a few major large-scale builders with an international presence. Why compete continentally in a saturated market?
[M]: What resources −books, websites, organizations, etc.− were helpful to you in the beginning?
AE: One of the original American frame builders, a 30-year veteran, helped me in the beginning− and still does. If tough design questions crop up, I can always count on him answering the phone. My family has always been there for me. We’ve always loved mechanical objects. Initially, when I tooled up, my uncles were invaluable.
In the beginning, I visited a few forums and listservs. I don’t have too much time for that anymore. I have industry contacts on Flickr. We share comments and photos. It’s great to look at other builders’ shops, their operations. Harvard Business Review has been amazing. I’ve had a subscription for a few years. I tend to stay away from industry-related material, as we’re forging new paths.
[M]: You’ve said Stuart Hunter at roll: has been a mentor. How has he helped you?
AE: It’s easy to see he’s approaching the industry from a different angle. He applies strong retail ideals and operations to the traditional bike shop. I enjoy our conversations. He has a strong eye for design and product packaging. Initially, our conversations revolved around my product and general business practices.
The bicycle industry runs in a completely different manner than the rest of the retail world. He worked in the retail world. I could appreciate the life he lived before roll:. He helped me navigate and focused my energy in the beginning.
[M]: What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a business owner and how did you overcome it?
AE: In the beginning it was liquidity. I needed to grow but couldn’t afford the tools to speed production. I couldn’t even think about bringing employees on board because I had no way to pay them.
We joked the other night we’ll all be able to buy a Porsche 914 soon. If you know anything about the Porsche brand, you know the 914 was the junkiest Porsche ever made. It was a Volkswagen beetle with a different body.
I held my ground when sitting down at the table to talk capital and equity. I’ve never given up hope. I’ve lived meagerly and worked extremely hard. Working seven days a week and 14 hours a day is the name of the game. When I’m not building a bike, I’m building the brand. It’s affected my personal relationships.
It’s a tight rope. It’s taking a couple days off when you’re on the edge. It’s doing what you know needs to be done and following your heart.
[M]: What do you consider the most rewarding aspect of being a business owner?
AE: Watching Stanridge grow and prosper based on principles of integrity, honesty, and hard work by the team. One of the most rewarding feelings is looking at the guys when we all sit down and knowing they get it and believe in what has been created. Knowing my grandfathers, George Stanton and J.M. Eldridge, would be proud of what I’m doing.
To learn more about Stanridge Bicycles, visit StanridgeSpeed.com.
All photos provided by Stanridge Speed. Workbench profile photo by Chris Walker Photography.